TRANSCOM Leader Examines Cyber Security, Reiterates Industry Support
The commander of U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) recently urged maritime industry leaders to keep fighting for what’s right, and also credited them for consistently standing up for U.S. crews and American shipbuilding.
Gen. Darren McDew, TRANSCOM’s commanding officer, offered his thoughts on the past, present and future of maritime during his speech at the Maritime Trades Department (MTD) convention, which took place Oct. 19-20 in St. Louis. The MTD is a constitutional department of the AFL-CIO; the SIU is affiliated with both organizations. SIU President Michael Sacco also serves as president of the MTD.
“I fully understand that the United States of America is still a maritime nation, although our laws and policies don’t always reflect the fact that we understand that,” said McDew on Oct. 20.
He continued, “I am huge advocate for the industry. I think I need to get stronger at it, but I’ve been one of your biggest fans and will remain one of your biggest fans.”
Addressing some challenges, McDew stated, “We’ve got a mariner shortage, and we have got declining numbers in our U.S.-flag fleet. I would like to tell folks that don’t know, we had 1,500 U.S.-flagged vessels in U.S.-flag maritime fleet in the ’50s…. We are down to less than 80.”
Looking ahead, McDew discussed the importance of cyber security as it relates to the maritime industry. He stressed how crucial this aspect has become in recent years, and said, “Today, TRANSCOM is leading the cyber discussion in the Department of Defense. I did not want to lead the cyber discussion in the department. I’m a 35-year airman. I wanted to talk about airplanes and learn something about ships. But I talk more about cyber than anything else.”
He then examined some of the possibilities that could arise in a modern war, due to advances in technology: “Wars in the future will transcend geographic boundaries, with globally networked information consumers who will be swimming in a sea of disinformation. These wars may be fought against a technologically more advanced and numerically superior adversary. We will likely have to transport and sustain dispersed forces over long, contested lines of communication. You’ve heard about contested lines of communication; we’ve not dealt with that for 70-plus years.
“The tactics, techniques, and procedures that have made us successful in the past will not be the same ones that will ensure our success in the future,” he stated.
Other speakers at the convention also touched on cyber security. For instance, Maersk Line, Limited President William Woodhour spoke Oct. 19 of the cyber attack that wreaked havoc on their network earlier this year: “June 27 of this year we woke up, we came to work, and everything was great. It was a nice sunny day, we were doing our work as we normally would. And in the course of a half an hour, all those lights on that chart went dim. Twenty-five thousand computer screens went black; 2,500 servers were essentially destroyed along the way. People had no means of communication because all of our phones are (internet-based) VOIP.”
Woodhour continued, “It’s cost the company, as we’ve said publicly, $300 million. I think that’s a conservative estimate, because it doesn’t take into account the time and the frustration of a lot of people out there. It’s drawn upon the organization, in a period of darkness, to say, ‘Okay, who knows what to do in the absence of technology?’. Basically … going back to manual solutions. We put those in place, but the strain and the stress cracks after about two to three weeks. People just get tired of doing it, they lose track of where they are in all the processes and it starts to break down.
“It’s a significant challenge that faces us,” he concluded. “It’s one that affects your operations. It could affect your safety at sea. It can affect your financials, all your customer information, all of your human resource records, everything can go kaput in a second.”
McDew referred to cyber security as one of the four command priorities of TRANSCOM, and to that end, he has hosted numerous cyber roundtables to help understand the problem. These meetings, featuring experts from all levels of government, the cyber security industry and academia, have allowed military leaders to gain valuable insight into the strategic threats of a technologically advanced enemy, he said.
“We’ve been able to turn the corner, with the help of these experts,” McDew said. “We’re shaping a vision of mission assurance in the cyber-threat and cyber-degraded environments and making actionable changes to improve our cyber posture.”
Despite the challenges facing the industry, McDew remains confident in U.S. mariners, as well as the unions that represent them and the companies they work closely with.
“We are still, I believe, the strongest nation in the world, with the most battle-hardened, battle-tested force in our history,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter if we have the best military and the most advanced equipment if we can’t get it to where it needs to go when we need it to get there. We have to address cyber security as a nation to assure our power projection remains the cornerstone of America’s lethality and America’s ability to offer assistance. You’re a part of that cornerstone.”
He concluded, “The answer to success in the future will not be found in the templates in the past of the past, in my opinion. That was their time, but this is our time, and we need you today more than we ever have in the past.”